DALLAS — Republicans looking to bolster their female ranks in the House are closely watching next week’s primaries. On Tuesday, more than a quarter of the GOP women running for the chamber will face their first test, including Genevieve Collins.
The energetic Dallas businesswoman is in a competitive primary to take on freshman Democrat Collin Allred in Texas’ 32nd District. She said the paltry number of Republican women in the House — there are just 13 — factored into her decision to run.
“That was a big impetus, to find someone that looks like me, not [just] Elise Stefanik,” Collins said, referring the GOP congresswoman from New York. “If we’re going to be more inclusive, we need more people that look like the rest of our community.”
Collins is one of 215 female Republicans running for the House this year. On Tuesday, 62 of them are competing in primaries in Texas, California, Alabama and North Carolina. Arkansas also hold its congressional primaries, but no Republican women are running.
Primaries have been formidable obstacles for female GOP hopefuls in the past. Compared with men, they struggle with fundraising in primaries and have to battle a perception that women are more liberal, said Julie Conway, executive director of VIEW PAC, which supports female Republican candidates.
“Even where we have an exceptionally conservative woman who is identical to a conservative guy … people will always think that the guy is more conservative,” Conway said.
That’s a sentiment that persists even among female voters. Multiple GOP women in Texas said they’d prefer to have more female Republicans in Congress, but they don’t vote based on gender.
“I wanted to vote for the woman. I did,” said Trish Kennedy, a 55-year-old lawyer from Dallas who cast her early vote Sunday at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. Yet she voted for Collins’ primary opponent, retired Navy SEAL Floyd McLendon.
“I thought, what’s more important, gender or experience? That’s what it came down to,” Kennedy said.
A ‘super’ opportunity
If Collins doesn’t win a majority of the vote Tuesday, she will likely head to a May 26 runoff against McLendon.
GOP leaders who want to see more women in Congress are hoping Collins and a slew of other female candidates eventually advance to the general election. Texas’ 32nd District is of particular interest to Republicans since Allred flipped it in 2018 and Hillary Clinton carried it by just under 2 points two years earlier. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Leans Democratic.
Not all of the female Republicans in Super Tuesday primaries are in races rated competitive for November, and not all of them are considered credible candidates. Roughly half a dozen of them have won endorsements from outside groups that support GOP women.
Collins and fellow Texan Beth Van Duyne, a former mayor of Irving who’s running in the neighboring 24th District, have the backing of VIEW PAC, Winning for Women and Stefanik’s leadership PAC.
All three groups have also endorsed California Republicans Young Kim, who is running again for the 39th District after losing a close race in 2018, and Michelle Steel, an Orange County commissioner running in the 48th District. California holds open primaries, in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the November general election.
Winning for Women and VIEW PAC have also backed Jessica Taylor, who’s running in Alabama’s 2nd District to replace retiring Republican Martha Roby.
VIEW PAC has endorsed additional Super Tuesday candidates, including former Bellaire Mayor Cindy Siegel in Texas’ 7th District. But facing Siegel in the primary is Wesley Hunt, an African American Army veteran who has the backing of GOP leaders including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. VIEW PAC is also backing Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez, whose running in the Democratic-leaning 15th District.
Susan B. Anthony List, which supports candidates opposed to abortion, has endorsed Taylor, Kim, Steel, Van Duyne and an additional candidate, Kathaleen Wall. The GOP megadonor is running in a very crowded open primary in Texas’ 22nd District.
“I never thought that 22 years later, I would still be the only Texas Republican woman,” Granger said in an interview in North Richland Hills last week.
Asked if the party has sufficiently supported female candidates, Granger said, “Obviously not, or we wouldn’t have that few.”
Some in the party are looking to change that. Winning for Women has focused its initial efforts on Texas. Its independent expenditure arm, WFW Action, has spent $85,000 so far backing Granger and $32,000 supporting Van Duyne.
Stefanik’s group, E-PAC, raised more than $500,000 for GOP women in 2019, and it’s hoping to do the same this year.
Groups backing Republican women have struggled to match the influence of EMILY’s List, which backs female Democrats who support abortion rights and is a powerful player in primaries. But House GOP leaders are recognizing that having so few women in their conference is a problem. McCarthy has often noted he has endorsed several women this cycle, including Collins and Van Duyne in Texas.
“There’s a lot more discussion of the importance of electing Republican women than there ever has been,” VIEW PAC’s Conway said. But, she added, “unless we continue to do more to invest in women when it matters, which is during a primary, we’re going to have a lot of the same results.”
Some women are taking matters into their own hands.
As Collins was greeting voters here on Sunday afternoon, Luisa del Rosal bounded up to her. Del Rosal is running for a state House seat and was knocking doors earlier in the day. She said she found a Democratic voter who said he was supporting Collins.
Del Rosal, a Mexican immigrant, said she decided to run for office to show that there are Hispanic women who are conservative and that “there’s a voice for us in the party.”
Del Rosal and Collins have been campaigning together ahead of the primary, and she said Collins has been a helpful resource. Del Rosal hopes to do the same for other GOP women in the future.
“You have to not be afraid,” she said, noting she will knock on Democrats’ doors to win votes. “When you’re a woman, people listen. So let’s remember that.”